Speak Your Piece: Waiting for the HSUS

The Humane Society of the United States and several ag groups have formed a coalition. The ag groups think HSUS can help save independent farmers and ranchers. But what, exactly, has HSUS done?

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Almost a year ago, the Humane Society of the U.S. and the Nebraska Farmers Union (NeFU) formed an advisory council

It was the first such alliance in the country between an ag organization and the HSUS. But it wasn’t the last.

In July, the Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM) said it has formed an alliance with the Humane Society. HSUS president Wayne Pacelle spoke at the OCM meeting in Kansas City, August 10.

I understand what the HSUS and independent farmers and ranchers have in common: The NeFU and OCM need allies in their fight against the large (some would say monopolistic) groups that control ag markets and the lives of farmers and ranchers. HSUS is opposed to factory farming methods that are the foundation of corporate agribusiness. 

The enemy of my enemy is my friend. I get it. 

I also understand the benefits of this kind of alliance. HSUS gains an ally in the farm and ranch country where the organization is trying to change factory farming practices — from tail docking at dairies to the size of gestation crates on hog farms.

The farmers and ranchers at OCM and NeFU, meanwhile, believe HSUS could help open new markets for the food they produce by steering urban foodies to their products. (Maybe the HSUS could brand products from independent producers.) HSUS could also provide some lobbying clout in Congress when it comes to writing (or enforcing) laws about competition and monopolies.

In theory, everybody wins. Markets are opened, allowing independent producers to thrive. Animals are saved from factory farms. Food quality improves. Rural communities benefit from having local owners and operators who are making more money. 

It could work. But for a coalition to prosper, don’t you need to have both sides publicly supporting each other?

I sat through Pacelle’s speech to OCM in Kansas City and I waited to hear him talk about markets and what the HSUS could do for family farmers. Pacelle talked…and talked. But he never got to the part about how the HSUS was going to help support family agriculture.

Instead, Pacelle preached to a room full of people who grew animals for a living — who have lived with animals from the day they were born — about the “bond between us and animals” and how we have become “alienated from animals.” 

Pacelle talked about the history of the animal welfare movement and how “things have skidded off the tracks in terms of the industrial model” of agriculture. Industrial agriculture is wrong, Pacelle said, because it is impossible to “care for tens of thousands of animals on some of these industrial farms…There is no connection between the keepers of these animals and the animals themselves.”

On Pacelle went, about morality and responsibility, about the history of the horse and what it means to be a “proper custodian” of animals.

Near the end of his talk (sermon), Pacelle said the HSUS was interested in “providing markets for farmers who are doing it a better way. We’ve been trying to drive the market by connecting consumers to these decisions.” I was anxious to hear some specifics about how this might work and what, exactly, the HSUS had done. There weren’t any.

Pacelle’s visit to Kansas City and the meeting of the Organization for Competitive Markets came during a tour he was taking of farms in the Midwest. When he got back to Washington, D.C., he wrote about his travels on the HSUS website. Did he write about markets for independent farmers and ranchers, about how this coalition would work to benefit independent producers?

Nope. In 1,200 words, Pacelle mentioned “markets” once, and that was when he said he “addressed the family farmers at the Organization for Competitive Markets….”  Instead, Pacelle wrote about his visits to farms where animals are treated as “curious, intelligent, feeling creatures.” 

Pacelle wrote that the HSUS “welcomes vegans, vegetarians, and meat-eaters alike.” And what does Pacelle want out of that coalition of eaters? He ends his story this way:

The common thread we demand is conscious awareness of animals and their basic needs, and an effort to find better ways to live and do business with the intent of creating a new, humane economy. When it comes to agricultural producers, we as a movement must engage them. They have billions of animals under their care, and the welfare of these creatures should be top-of-mind for them, since animals are the very essence of their enterprises. When they ignore their responsibilities to animals, that’s when they run into trouble, from The HSUS and from the rest of the American public.

Missing from Pacelle’s “common thread,” and demands was any mention of what the HSUS intended to do for farmers and ranchers. 

How does HSUS intend to make good on its promise to “engage” urban consumers about monopoly markets that are strangling rural America? It’s hard to see. After all, did HSUS show any muscle when it came time to pressure Congress and the Obama administration to pass laws or initiate lawsuits aimed at restoring free markets in the food business?

Not that I heard of.

Bill Bishop/Daily Yonder
The HSUS wants a coalition with independent ag groups. So far, the groups have gotten a lot of grief from their members — and some sweet rolls.

Pacelle said that he had supported strong rules proposed by Dudley Butler at the Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Administration, but when I searched his blog for “GIPSA” or “Dudley Butler,” nothing came up. On the general HSUS website, all that I found was a single, tepid, three-paragraph “statement” the HSUS put out last October.

It said that HSUS supported “country of origin labeling,” the COOL regulations that would require food processors to tell consumers where the product was raised. I’m sure that’s true, but there is no mention of “country of origin labeling” on Pacelle’s blog or the HSUS website. 

I searched for “antitrust” and there was nothing there about the Obama administration’s investigation into market monopolies in seeds, pork, chicken, beef or groceries.

If HSUS has been active in this area, fighting to open markets for independent farmers and ranchers, the organization has been way behind the scenes. The union representing meatpackers turned out members to support ranchers at a hearing on beef monopolies held two summers ago in Fort Collins, Colorado. Where was the HSUS?

OCM president Fred Stokes said HSUS did call a meeting to share information on how checkoff money is being used by commodity groups for “lobbying,” a violation of federal regulations. Stokes said that meeting led to a suit filed by Kansas City attorney Dan Owen to block checkoff funds from going to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. 

Stokes said “every cowboy out there owes a deep debt of gratitude to the Humane Society of the U.S.” (Owen said HSUS provided no support in the preparation of his case.)

Stokes is generous — and, along with the Nebraska Farmers Union, he’s taken a lot of heat for allying with the HSUS. (See the NCBA’s statement here.) 

Similarly, Kansas rancher Mike Callicrate has been on radio shows around cow country defending the alliance with the HSUS. He told Drovers: “They don’t like the way animals are treated under the Smithfield-Tyson-JBS-Cargill model of food production. So they said ‘hey, we like the family farm and ranch model, we want to support that, what can we do to help?’   We aren’t going to turn them away because someone said one time they are anti animal agriculture. They’ve been called an animal rights group. They are not that, they are an animal welfare group, and I’m in complete alignment with their philosophy that animals should be treated humanely – as well as people.”

These guys have held up their side of the deal.

And what has HSUS done, publicly, to bring over their largely urban constituency to support independent farmers and ranchers? Well, HSUS did pay for a few sweet rolls and some coffee at the OCM convention, a donation celebrated in a sign set next to the silverware. But what else?

And when?

Bill Bishop is co-editor of The Daily Yonder.

 

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